Employment-Seventh Circuit Rules That A Plaintiff Terminated Following A Wrist Injury Does Not Have An ADA Claim

In Povey v. City of Jeffersonville, Indiana, No. 4:09-CV-00161 (7th Cir. 2012), the plaintiff, Angelina Povey (“Povey”), had injured her wrist while working as an attendant at the City of Jeffersonville (“Jeffersonville”) animal shelter. Jeffersonville ultimately terminated Povey’s employment. Povey then filed this suit, claiming that the termination discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The district court granted Jeffersonville’s motion for summary judgment, and Povey appealed.

In October 2007, Povey had injured her wrist moving a dog from one cage to another at the animal shelter. She eventually had surgery on her wrist and underwent physical therapy to address the impairment through August 2008. After the surgery, Povey’s workload was reduced, and her co-workers complained. At one point, Povey filed a complaint, alleging harassment from a co-worker.
In August 2008, Jeffersonville received medical notice-presumably from Povey’s doctors- of Povey’s permanent physical restrictions which prohibited repetitive hand movement and no lifting, pushing or pulling more than five pounds with her right arm. After receiving this notice, Povey was placed on leave with pay and subsequently fired by Jeffersonville. This suit ensued.

As to the claim of discrimination, here in the form of termination by Jeffersonville due to Povey’s disability, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) said that the issue is whether Povey has a “disability” for ADA purposes. The ADA defines “disability” as: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual; (2) a record of such an impairment; or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment. (see 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)). Povey claims she falls in prong (3). The Court said that, to come within this prong when-as here-the major life activity limited by the disability is the ability to work , a plaintiff must show that the employer regards her as being significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class or broad range of jobs. The Court said that Povey did not allege sufficient facts to shows that Jeffersonville had any such regard towards her. The Court concluded that Povey did not have a disability protected by the ADA, so that her claim of discrimination failed .

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As to the claim of retaliation, here in the form of termination by Jeffersonville due to the complaint of harrassment that Povey made, the Court noted that the ADA prohibits retaliation, even if the plaintiff’s claim of discrimination in violation of the ADA has no merit. To prove retaliation, the plaintiff must offer evidence that: (1) she engaged in a statutorily protected activity-here the complaint she made about the harassment; (2) the defendant subjected her to an adverse employment action-here the termination by Jeffersonville; and (3) a causal connection existed between the two events. The Court concluded that Povey did not provide sufficient evidence to meet prong (3), so that her retaliation claim failed.

As such, the Court affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in Jeffersonville’s favor.